In 2014 a group of concerned leaders and literacy advocates from Pitt County Schools, non-profit groups, the private sector, Sheppard Memorial Library, and East Carolina University (ECU) gathered to form the Books from Birth/Early Literacy Coalition of ENC. These early founding efforts were led by a local speech and language specialist, Jennifer Stone Christensen, who went on to pursuerelated doctoral studies at UNC-CH. In Sept. 2018 the group was renamed READ ENC. READ ENC’s overall goal is to provide a common vision and resources needed to create and expand efforts to grow awareness, programming, and community/family resources to stimulate cognitive development during the critical period, birth-age 5, leading to grade level proficient reading at the end of grade 3. Through the support of the United Way of Pitt County, East Carolina University (ECU), Vidant Health, and the Smith Family Foundation, early efforts focused almost exclusively on driving enrollment and funding for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL) program, which mails high-quality books to children’s homes from birth to 5 years of age. This effort has been extraordinarily successful to date, enrolling more than 7,000 children and distributing more than 110,000 books to DPIL families in area homes. Further, in partnership with ECU’s College of Education, a significant and robust research agenda was activated with the goal of examining the impact of DPIL on kindergarten children’s readiness for school learning.
In 2017, the North Carolina State Legislature began funding DPIL enrollment for all NC children 0-5. This change came at the same time that our Executive Steering Committee was broadening its focus to develop a more comprehensive strategy for supporting and enabling the vision of community transformation through a focus on early literacy.
The North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation, which serves as NC’s lead organization for the national Campaign for Grade Level Reading (CGLR), was recognized as a natural partner in READ ENC’s effort as they have a well-established process for building a community led strategy and movement to impact critical outcomes for children 0-8 yrs. of age (birth through 3rd grade). The shared interest in early childhood brain development and desire to impact these early outcomes enabled the creation of READ ENC’s guiding document, a Community Solutions Action Plan, which was endorsed on Nov. 6, 2018 by the national Campaign for Grade Level Reading.